I’ve been an Internet marketing consultant for nearly 25 years so when somebody asked me why the vast majority of them look the same these days I was surprised I didn’t have an immediate answer. Now I do.
First, let’s define what “looking the same” means. Sure, you have different logos, color palettes, fonts, etc. It is the structure or layout of sites that look similar now. A typical layout will include a hero image or slideshow that takes up the full width of the screen. Underneath that, you will have three or four call outs. Under that, you will have a call-to-action block and a four-column footer with utility links, Facebook feeds, contact forms, and the like. You know what I’m talking about.
I started seeing this style trend about six years ago. Web pages used to be simple: header, body, sidebar, footer. Remember when scrolling was a bad thing? Not anymore. Now, it seems every page is an infinite scroll of block after block of finely tuned content. What’s wrong with that you might ask? Nothing. The question is, how did we get here? Part of the answer lies in the advancement of tools such as WordPress and various themes or frameworks that make it so much easier to create a website. This is a natural occurrence with technology. Also, as services become commoditized they begin to look the same due to the cost-effectiveness of everyone using the same “secret weapons” in their toolbox. WordPress is the platform of choice for over 58% of all the sites on the web and we recommend it 9 times out of 10.
Now that we know how sites have come to look the same we have to ask why. The answer is in the palm of your hand. “Mobile First” web strategies have unwittingly dictated what the desktop view looks like. With over 52% of all web traffic being mobile, with some industries seeing 80% or higher, we not only can’t ignore these users but must cater to them specifically. Infinite scrolling? Check. Stacked content? Check. Hamburger menu? Check, check, check. The point I’m trying to make is, due to websites needing to be mobile-friendly, it has lead to the trend of easy-to-use mobile functionality taking priority over inventive and creative desktop sites. When was the last time you thought, “Hey, I love the design of this mobile site?” Probably never because form follows function when it comes to mobile responsive design work.
Hey, you run an agency! Stop moaning and get creative.
I hear you loud and clear and we can do it. But can you afford it? Our best work happens when our creative team is unleashed and not designing to a predetermined framework. The challenge to the client is the budget goes up astronomically when a unique design and framework is required. For large brands, this isn’t an issue. For smaller ones, it is hard to recommend a completely custom design in good faith when we can accomplish their goals using standard tools found in our toolbox. The problem is standard tools with a growing Mobile First world leads to standard looking desktop designs.
But I want it all, Scott, and I want it right now
Easy now! If you’re willing to be flexible during the web development process you can get a uniquely designed site that works great on mobile that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Let’s break it down. First, we let our designers go wild with wireframes and prototypes following the creative brief approved by you. Once we are happy with the home page, section landing page, and tertiary page layouts, we populate them with killer content and branding. Now, here’s the kicker: after signing off on this phase you need to be flexible during the development phase while we make the design fit to the feature-rich framework from our toolbox. Things may look a little bit different here and there from the original designs as we would not be doing “pixel perfect” work requiring a custom framework build-out, which can easily pump the budget up 5 to 6 times. Of course, designers and most clients hate this approach and I don’t blame them. However, as stewards of our clients’ brands, we cannot forget we are also stewards of their budgets. So, with a little flexibility and a lot of communication, you truly can have it all and not look like every other website out there.